Monday, May 5, 2008

Minas da Passagem

We took a day trip with two of our friends, Carl and Fabiana (the couple we celebrated Carnaval with back in February) over to Ouro Preto and Mariana on Saturday. We had read about an old gold mine that is open for tours, and Eric and I wanted to check it out. It is right on the edge of Mariana off the road to Ouro Preto. It was first mined in the 1700's and was still active into the 1980's. It claims to be the world's largest gold mine open for tours. After paying our R$24 per person (US$14) we made our way down to the mine.

You ride down into the mine on an old trolley that rolls on rails and is let down and pulled back up with a cable. Eric spent a good bit of time checking out the contraption that runs the cable. On the way down it is just gravity fed and the operator uses a foot brake to keep you from rolling down too fast and out of control. (When we boarded the trolley Eric commented, "Right now would be a really bad time for that guy to have a heart attack or something.") It uses stream power then to pull you back up afterwards.

We don't recommend riding down into the cave in the front row on the trolley. If you sit in the second row or back, you are able to keep yourself in your seat on the steep inclines by bracing up against the seat in front of you. The front row doesn't have anything in front of you! I am not sure how you keep yourself from sliding out of your seat and falling on the tracks!

The two girls who rode in the front were freaking out the whole time while hanging on to the back of their seat and each other for dear life-it really seems like a bit of a safety issue to me!

Once down in the mine, I was amazed at how huge it was!

There is a lake in the bottom of the mine with crystal clear water. There were several divers exploring it when we were there. (The blue light is coming from one of divers.)

There was a lot of quartz in the mine along with layers of really interesting rocks/minerals that I can't identify. (It's been too many years since my geology class!)

There was a shrine set up in the mine (to honor the miners killed, I think. Although leaving offerings of sunblock, lipstick, hair clips, etc. didn't seem real fitting for that theme, so maybe I am wrong. The whole shrine thing that is so common here is interesting but a bit bizarre to me.)

From the mine, this is a look back towards all the old buildings on the site. There is also a waterfall towards the bottom center of the photo. The setting up in the mountains was really gorgeous!

They also have a museum and lots of old mining equipment sitting around. Eric immediately hopped up on the old tractor saying something about feeling right at home and having driven something of a similar age in his days back on the farm. ;)

It is a very solemn experience to look at how much rock has been removed from the Earth and what a dangerous job it must have been (especially in the early days!) Back when the gold mining first began in Brasil, slaves were brought over from Africa to work in the mines. The Portuguese King took a portion of all the gold extracted leaving some then for the locals to use and sell. All the gold mining in the area is what made it possible to build such ornate churches in Ouro Preto and other colonial cities in Minas Gerais (and also why the churches are all decked out in gold on the inside!)

I have been in a lot of gold mines up in North Georgia around Dahlonega, but this one was much larger than the ones I've toured and really interesting! This will go down on the list of fun things to do with guests, and since it is only about an hour and a half from us, it makes a perfect day trip!


Beth said...


That was really cool! I do enjoy reading about your adventures!

Take Care,

JUstin said...

Cool place, Em. I'll have to visit when I come to see you. I'll take the front seat :-)

Rachel said...

I was just going to congratulate you on helping educate the gringos on Brazilian history, but now I have to tell you congratulations for educating me on American geography -- I had no idea there were gold mines in Georgia!

Emily said...

Actually a little known fact, unless you are from Georgia, is that Dahlonega was the site of the first Gold Rush in the USA! Check out more details at

AcesHigh said...

brazilian gold financed the whole english industrial revolution.

Portugal would take almost it all as belonging to the crown (in that time, Brazil didnt even have schools, universities or factories... all were banned by Portugal), and Portugal in turn gave almost all the gold to England for old debts and stuff.

If you guys ever set off to colonize another place (like Mars for example) remember to ONLY DISCOVER GOLD AFTER GETTING YOUR INDEPENDENCE. :)